Sunday, October 12, 2008
We're halfway through the three-day weekend courtesy of the Double Ten national holiday 中華民国国慶日, and I'm already exhausted, but feeling good nonetheless. Yesterday morning (Friday), the Kaminoge family set off in their motorcar, and moved in a southerly direction. Our plan was to visit Chiayi 嘉義, spend the night there, and then drive to the Guanziling Hot Springs 関子嶺温泉 on Saturday morning. Things didn't turn out quite as planned, but the result in the end was better than anticipated. For the sweet twist of fate, read on...
We didn't leave home until after 11:30 am, but that was no problem, as the idea was to spend the afternoon strolling around Chiayi Park 嘉義公園, before locating a hotel in the downtown area to spend the night, whereupon after checking in and parking the car, we would go to a night market and soak up some local atmosphere. Southbound-traffic on the No. 1 Freeway was heavier than expected, which Pamela put down to being the result of a festival of some sort being held at Sun Moon Lake 日月潭 . However, I learned from talking on the phone to my friend Steve that a big national day fireworks show was scheduled to be held in Chiayi on Friday evening, right in the very park we were planning to visit. After a quick visit to my wife's hometown of Siluo 西螺 in Yunlin County 雲林県 (where we had lunch at a noodle restaurant that Pamela used to frequent back in her elementary and junior high school days, so you know it's been around for a while!), we got to Chiayi around 2:30, where the Statue of Liberty welcomed the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in the middle of a traffic circle:
Heading towards Chiayi Park, we saw that the police were already instituting crowd-control measures on the roads, so we figured the best thing to do would be to find accommodation ASAP, and go to the park on foot. Well, every hotel we either telephoned or stopped at was fully booked, and the love hotels were not accepting overnight visitors until after 10pm. After about 90 minutes of driving around downtown Chiayi in search of a place to stay (and with me wondering what the hell was I thinking when I decided earlier in the week that it wouldn't be necessary to book ahead!), we gave up on the city. A quick phone call to a hotel in Guanziling secured a room for us for the evening, and so we drove into the hills of northern Tainan County 台南県, arriving at the Jing Leh Hotel around 5:30. According to "The Rough Guide to Taiwan", the Jing Leh:
"...is the oldest hotel in town, established in 1902 with Japanese-style rooms and white-tiled bathrooms..."
Wooden floors and futons constitute "Japanese-style" in Taiwan, but the hotel didn't look much like it was 106 years old. In fact, the neighboring Hotel Kuanzuling (in English)/Kanshirei Onsen Hotel 関子嶺温泉ホテル (in Japanese) looked much older, and more Japanese.
However, the hotel was a reasonably-priced NT2200 ($68 or ￥6800) for a large room with bath/toilet en suite, and a Western-style breakfast in the morning, plus friendly staff. After dropping our bags off at the hotel we drove 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) up the hill, along a road made treacherous in parts due to recent typhoon damage, to the Water Fire Cave - a natural spring pool that has escaping natural gas igniting above it. We got there just after the sun had set, which had the added bonus of making the flames look even more spectacular. After returning back to the lower part of Guanziling village (where the Jing Leh Hotel is located) and having dinner, the three of us went into a communal (but private) bath at our hotel to enjoy the hot springs. To quote Rough Trade again, the spring water at Guanziling:
"is a rare type found in only two other places (Japan and Sicily). It contains alkali and iodine, has a light sulfuric smell and a grayish 'muddy' color."
What the book doesn't mention is that the water also produces actual mud, heaps of it, which Amber, in particular, enjoyed flinging at us and rubbing on herself:
Definitely the most interesting hot spring experience I've had so far!
The next morning (today), we got up at 6 and took a walk up some stairs that overlooked the lower village:
Following our stroll and breakfast, we checked out, then drove off to visit the Bi Yun Temple, a further 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) past the Water Fire Cave. Consisting of a Taoist temple at the bottom and a Buddhist one at the top, the complex (again to quote RT):
"occupies a stunning location beneath a craggy peak with great views of the plains below."
Which is all true, but on this morning the weather was hazy, which limited the view. In addition, soon after we got there, a festival began that involved lots of firecrackers being set off, which only served to terrify Amber, and made her want to leave. It was a good thing we did, though, because as we were pulling out of the parking lot, busloads of "pilgrims" (for want of a better description) began showing up, and the narrow mountain road was quickly beginning to back up with traffic. Fortunately for us, we were heading in the opposite direction, back towards Chiayi.
Driving into Chiayi on Highway 1, our next stop was the Tropic of Cancer Monument 北回帰線標塔. There's a museum nearby that reminds of Los Angeles International Airport. The actual line marking the northern boundary of the tropics crosses the highway. Meanwhile, replicas of previous monuments (the earliest one having been erected in 1908) can be seen in front of the museum. Afterward, we returned to a still-busy central Chiayi, but now a city in which all roads were free of restrictions. And in a case of "When in Rome", we naturally had turkey rice for lunch.
And so, roughly 24 hours later than originally intended, we arrived at Chiayi Park. A fair question might be "What's so special about the park?". For Amber, it was a chance to play on some slides and blow some bubbles, but for myself, it was an opportunity to visit the site of the old Kagi Shrine 嘉義神社, one of the 66 official Shintō shrines 神社 established during the Japanese colonial era. The Koma-inu 狛犬 guardian lion statues and stone lanterns still line the approach, and though the torii 鳥居 is gone, the shrine's beautiful old cypress office buildings have been preserved as the Chiayi Historical Relics Museum. Funny how in Matsue 松江, the local history museum was housed in a Meiji-era Western-style building, while here, displays on Chiayi's early history are presented in a very Japanese-looking structure. Free of charge, the buildings are interesting to walk through. It's great to see the old architectural examples being put to good use instead of being torn down and replaced by some KMT-designed monstrosity.
(The last picture, by the way, was taken by a photographer who is isn't quite 2 years and 9 months old!)
Where the main hall of Kagi-jinja once stood, there now stands the Chiayi Tower. There would've been good views of the city from the top, had the sky not been full of haze, but it was possible to look down through a glassed section of floor at the interior of the tower, all the way down to the bottom:
By the time we left the tower, it was after 4, so we got back in the car and headed home to Fengyuan豊原. There is still one more day left in this holiday weekend, but we figured the freeways will be jammed tomorrow (Sunday) with people returning home. Besides, the apartment needs a good cleaning, so that's what I'm going to be doing on Sunday. It was enough that we were able to get away for as long as we could, and to where we could go. In fact, things worked out even better by us staying in Guanziling. After all, we were able to enjoy a hot springs experience at a leisurely pace, and still get to enjoy Chiayi Park, and with the added bonus of avoiding the crowds that would have been there on Saturday evening.